A few weeks ago I wrote about an abiding passion for the lemons that grace our garden. Heaving with fruit, the tree, if I was to savour its bounty, needed some serious harvesting and some serious preserving. North African preserved lemons were quickly followed by pickled lemon slices that sit prettily in their large jar, layers interspersed with sprinklings of paprika, topped to the brim with golden olive oil. Recipe courtesy of Claudia Roden. (I think I love this woman. No, seriously). Putting them away felt wrong, so there they sit on the bench for me to admire daily. When the sun hits them, briefly in the morning, nothing seems more cheerful.
Still, the tree heaved. Next, a large batch of bitter-sweet Meyer lemon and vanilla bean marmalade, something I finally cracked with help from Tamasin Day-Lewis. For the uninitiated Tamasin seems bossy, her methods and tone demanding. But it’s for your own good, people. It was worth every second of my devotion. Soft-set, golden and wobbly. I can’t stop eating it, straight from the jar with, it has to be said, a large spoon.
Of all the things one can cook with, make magic in the kitchen with, spices are the most intriguing. There’s a world of opportunity in a spice rack. Time for a chutney. A hot, spicy Indian one.
Last year when I first made this, I didn’t know what to expect. It comes from Julie Sahni’s excellent Classic Indian Vegetarian Cookery, a book without pictures; a book full of authentic and aromatic food. My favourite kind. The spices seemed bold and the method unlike any other. In her introduction she states, ‘Anglo-Indians have their chutneys, too, and here is one. It’s easy to make, as are most Anglo-Indian foods…’. Easy? Well, I don’t know about you, but I love seeing that particular word in any ‘preserving’ section.
In a word, it’s sensational. But be warned. This is not a chutney as many people would know it, not something you’d be spreading thickly on a cheddar and tomato sandwich (though, come to think of it, thinly spread isn’t a bad idea); rather it is a balance of all the flavours that makes the foods of the sub-continent so irresistibly unique. Hot, sour, salty, bitter, sweet. It livens up anything even vaguely Indian –anything using paneer cheese or silky eggplant. Pulses and grains welcome its hot sweetness too. Once made, put it away and leave it alone for a full month to mature. In two weeks it will just be ready, but you’ll thank me if you can be patient for another two.
And I especially like the Indian name for it, Nimboo Chatni. Much cooler.
Anglo-Indian Lemon Chutney – makes about 1 litre, maybe a little less
Adapted from Classic Indian Vegetarian Cookery by Julie Sahni. I’ve cut the amount of chilli considerably, mostly because I’m a chilli wimp. If you like things to be searingly hot, by all means up the chilli. But you’ve been warned, okay? This will take three days, but it’s ridiculously easy.
7 green cardamom pods
1 tablespoon of peppercorns
1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
1 tablespoon of brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon of red chilli (pepper) flakes
12 small lemons (preferably thin-skinned)
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 small hot red chillies, roughly chopped
Knob of ginger, about 2.5cm, grated
125g of seedless raisins or sultanas
350ml of cider vinegar
3 tablespoons of coarse sea salt
500g of brown sugar
Gently crack the cardamom pods and release the seeds. Discard the green pods. Place a heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat and when hot, add the spices. Shake and toss the pan constantly until they start to smell enticing – a matter of about 3 minutes all up. Remove to a plate and cool completely before grinding to a powder in either a clean coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle.
Halve and juice the lemons. Strain the juice and set aside.
Discard 6 of the lemon shells, leaving you with 18 halves. Add these to the bowl of a food processor along with the onion, chillies, ginger and raisins. Whiz until finely minced. Tip into a large bowl and stir in the ground spices, reserved juice and the cider vinegar. Mix to combine, cover and leave at room temperature for 2 days.
It will look like a pile of slush. Revolting, but desirable. Trust me
Uncover and transfer to a non-metallic pan. Add the sea salt and sugar and gently bring to the boil over a low heat, stirring often. Cook, uncovered, gently bubbling, for 30 minutes. Stir from time to time, but stand back – it has a tendency to spit and burble, like a small volcano towards the end of the cooking time.
Sterilise 3 or 4 jars while it’s bubbling. There are lots of guidelines out there, so follow your preferred method.
While hot, ladle into the jars, seal tightly and invert until cool (this creates a vacuum). Store right way up, for at least 2 weeks before eating, preferably 4 weeks or longer, and refrigerate when opened.
Easy and very good. It will be ready just as we get home from our travels.
Just in time.